Individual Preferences Need Not Be Cost-Effective

Posted: September 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, HIV, Logic, Media Marketing, Public Health | 1 Comment »

With an opening paragraph like this, I’m inclined to cheer:

A group of top world economists said Wednesday that adult male circumcision, a global priority for preventing HIV infection, is not nearly as cost-effective as other methods of prevention.

They’re economists. I generally expect sensible reasoning from economists, so this is good. Except, reading beyond this first paragraph reveals something unexpected:

The group told representatives of global organizations at Georgetown University that more cost-effective ways to prevent the spread of the disease are an HIV vaccine, infant male circumcision, preventing mother-to-child transmission of the disease and making blood transfusions safe.

Including infant male circumcision in that list is offensive. Like medicine there’s more to economics than just numbers. We cannot ignore the ethical human rights violation involved in non-therapeutic male child circumcision in favor of saving a few dollars.

To be fair, stating that (forced) infant male circumcision is more cost-effective than (voluntary) adult male circumcision is not an endorsement of the former. It will be read as such, and there may be some willingness amongst these economists to endorse that view. I don’t know, so I’m going assume the most charitable reading possible.

However, to demonstrate the importance of including ethics, consider a hypothetical: a bullet is cheaper than life-extending medical care for terminal patients. Is it reasonable (i.e. ethical) to state that euthenasia and suicide are more cost-effective than treatment unlikely to work without also acknowledging the very important ethical caveats in the cheaper solutions?

Consider this from the article:

A successful adult male circumcision effort would require “a large public campaign to get people into the clinic,” said Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a Danish think tank focused on cost-effective public spending that commissioned the panel.

Getting men to volunteer to be circumcised would not be easy and “it could cause more risky behavior,” Lomborg said.

If it won’t be easy getting men to volunteer, and I think he’s correct, then it’s unethical to force circumcision on a child. Circumcising a child removes the choice from that male to have himself circumcised or not as an adult when we readily understand and accept that he won’t likely volunteer if left with his choice.

Also, to my knowledge, there has been no assessment of whether forced infant male circumcision is effective at preventing reducing any risk of HIV transmission. Assuming that infant and adult male circumcision are the same is unscientific.


However Much an Individual Cares, He Is Correct

Posted: March 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics | 2 Comments »

CBS News offered the first mainstream article I remember seeing that considers the possibility that male circumcision may be genital mutilation without at least cushioning the psychological hit by putting mutilation in quotes. That’s worth applauding, even if some of the article should be better. For example:

As for circumcision’s effects on sexual function, several studies conducted among men after adult circumcision suggest that few men report their sexual functioning is worse after circumcision. Most report either improvement or no change, according to the CDC.

This is not an acceptable summary of these studies since they show more variation than the reporter suggests here. For example, if a study reports that 18% of men aren’t happy with the results of circumcision, that qualifies as more than “few men”. This approach also fails to explore the assumptions in reaching those results that may be questionable. Self-reporting and why the respondent chose circumcision likely factor into the individual’s conclusion in some manner. But even if “few” is correct, ignoring individual conclusions about sexuality misses the ethical principle involved. Generalizing in place of considering what the individual male might want does not, therefore, justify applying the preferences of a majority onto any individual. (And I can uncritically provide studies (pdf) that reveal the opposite of the article’s statement.) Does the individual male child want to be circumcised? No one can know, which is why his lack of need is what matters.

The article concludes with this, a common misguided analysis.

“People care way too much about this little piece of skin,” Dr. Mark Alanis, assistant professor obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, who has written a history of circumcision, told the Washington Post. “At the end of the day, it’s unlikely to significantly change your child’s life for better or worse.”

Unlikely is not certainty, which demonstrates that this discussion must include ethics. All males will suffer some level of objective negatives, since no surgery is free of harm. A few will suffer worse objective negatives than the typical circumcision. These facts are indisputable, and suffice to rule out the imposition of non-therapeutic circumcision on a child. Dr. Alanis ignores that.

In his quote, he dismisses the subjective aspect of individual preference. Many males have – and will continue to – conclude that there are subjective negatives in addition to the objective harms of circumcision. He has no more standing to state that I care too much than I say he cares too little. The correct analysis is that I care about myself and he cares about himself. Each viewpoint is valid, but only as it applies to ourselves. Where he thinks circumcision is minor, I think it is major. Where he states it is a “little piece of skin,” I state that my foreskin was my little piece of skin. Rights matter. That’s where the emphasis must be.

Beyond ethics, his argument misses a larger issue. The burden of proof rests with people who want to circumcise children. But the correct test is need, not possible benefits. So, when advocates of non-therapeutic circumcision suggest that it doesn’t matter, the follow-up against this argument is why the advocate insists on permitting (or encouraging) circumcision. If it’s not important either way, then the superior option is that which doesn’t harm and maintains future choice. The response to that approach is generally a recitation of the claimed potential benefits, whether medical or cultural. Although only one justifiable conclusion exists, considering those is a better approach because it requires thought. In that willing participants can recognize that there are reasons to prefer being intact and that intact males aren’t destined to death-via-foreskin or even the rare medically necessary circumcision.

The “it doesn’t matter either way” approach is nothing more than declaring that one’s own personal, subjective preferences are universal and “right”. It’s a form of arrogance masked as an indifferent, considered statement of scientific fact. It is not. It is an opinion based on a subjective evaluation of competing thoughts. The only appropriate person to make that decision is the person who would be circumcised.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: The indecipherability of “ga ga goo goo ooga bahfah fum”

Posted: August 3rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Control, FCD, Parenting | 3 Comments »

Daulton Gatto asked to interview me. I agreed on the condition that he first answer a question from my last post. In response to Daulton’s alleged critiques of my “stupid arguments which claim to show that Mike Gatto likes to cut up baby boys’ wieners with surgical instruments,” I asked: “Why do you state my claim as something unconnected to what I’ve written?” I got something resembling an answer.

“Tony” seems to have taken issue with a statement I made in a previous post, which spoke to his implied belief that Mike Gatto likes to cut up baby boys’ wieners with surgical instruments. While I will acknowledge that Tony never actually stated such a belief in so many words, it is my position that his distorted interpretation of California AB 768 provides ample justification to draw such a conclusion.

The link you provide to California AB 768 doesn’t contradict my interpretation of the bill, which you excerpted in your answer. The rest of your answer appears to recognize that I interpreted the bill correctly. Instead, you’re agitated about this:

… I stated that [Mike Gatto] believes male minors do not have the same rights to their bodies as every other citizen of California. … But he incorrectly believes he and every other parent has the valid authority to choose, and, in his capacity as a legislator, to protect that authority in law.

That is the gist. The authority to impose non-therapeutic genital surgery on a child is illegitimate.

To which I respond:

Of course parents have the authority to have their infant children circumcised. Do you really expect a newborn baby to make this decision for himself? Or do you think that every single male in the world should be forced to wait until they gain legal control over their own medical care to have their stinky, ugly foreskin snipped off? As the proud owner of a smooth, polished penis … I can unequivocally state that my own experience with circumcision has been overwhelmingly positive …

Your thinking on this is too narrow. It’s absurd to imagine¹ that parental authority is specific within genital cutting so that it only applies to the healthy prepuce of a son but not the healthy prepuce of a daughter. As I wrote before, if parents have the authority you say they possess, that applies to control over their daughters’ genitals, too. It would be about the parents, not the child. Yet California law already prohibits this for exactly the reasons I state that non-therapeutic male circumcision is not a legitimate parental choice. Non-therapeutic genital cutting is an individual rights issue for the child (i.e. the surgical patient), which trumps this supposed parental right to proxy consent for sons only. The right to bodily integrity is the core of self-ownership and includes the genitals, even for male minors.

I don’t expect a newborn baby to make this decision, or any decision. But the standard for proxy consent (i.e. parental authority) is not “babies can’t make decisions for themselves”. And you have a curious understanding of what “force” entails. I think that every single male should be able to choose, absent medical need before he is able to decide for himself. No male should be forced to live with a circumcision he does not need, probably won’t need, and may not want. I don’t think this requires that he wait until he’s an adult to choose, but it should never be forced on him without need or his consent.

I’m happy for you that your experience with your circumcision has been positive. You don’t have to share my preference for my body. I don’t have to share your preference for your body. That’s the uncomplicated thing about individual preferences. They’re all subjective to the individual. A presumption of shared circumcision preference between a child and his parents is too convenient for public policy. It assumes away the value of self-ownership to the individual himself.

Parents have the legal right to make decisions about the medical care of their children until their children come of age. Otherwise, emergency rooms around the country would be filled with blubbering infants going “ga ga goo goo ooga bahfah fum” when doctors ask them whether or not they want their booster shots. …

I haven’t said anything suggesting otherwise about a general approach to parenting and its interaction with the State. I didn’t write that parents do not have the authority to make medical decisions, period. You’re not claiming I did, but this isn’t a good buildup for where you’re going with it.

… This legal right necessarily extends to circumcision, …

Necessarily? We agree that parents may choose circumcision where there is medical need, although I’ll add that there is an ethical duty to exhaust less invasive solutions first. This legal right does not “necessarily” extend to non-therapeutic circumcision. All you’ve done here is argue “Parents make decisions, Circumcision is a decision, Parents may decide on circumcision.”

… and the only objections are coming from a small minority of extremist demagogues who erroneously believe that Mike Gatto’s protection of parental rights is tantamount to supporting genital mutilation. …

I recommend that you look up the definition of demagogue again, and perhaps reread our series of posts after doing so, before tossing it around like that.

Mike Gatto protected genital mutilation. I do not know if he supports genital mutilation. Again, if AB768 bill protects a valid parental right, then the California penal code violates parental rights. Mike Gatto is duty-bound to try to correct that if he and you are correct about a parental right to have a child’s healthy genitals cut to satisfy their own preferences.

… I see no reason to offer a more thorough explanation, as it is my firm belief that your argument critiques itself by its circular and misguided nature. It’s Sunday, I’m hung over, and I can’t be bothered to make an exhaustive list of the endless number of logical fallacies you’ve and your supporters have committed.

Don’t worry, you were thorough enough to show the gaps in your argument.

¹ I take it as a given that you oppose female genital cutting, as prohibited in California law. Please correct me if I’ve assumed too much on that point.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: Jesse Bering

Posted: September 13th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, FCD, HIV, Logic | 5 Comments »

It requires education to see the world through disease-coloured glasses.” – Thomas Szasz (“Circumcision and the birth of the therapeutic state”)

Jesse Bering, PhD, endorses the AAP’s revised policy statement on non-therapeutic male child circumcision. He asks readers to replace the God he doesn’t believe in with the god he does believe in. He starts with some introduction about himself being circumcised, while his partner is intact. He then writes:

Whatever the reasons that previous generations may have had for choosing to remove their infant sons’ foreskins, they were almost always unconvincing. All else being equal – … – all else being equal, any dubious benefits derived from religious, social, hygienic, or aesthetic reasons are clearly outweighed by the costs of male circumcision. …

It might be surprising that I disagree with that. The costs clearly outweigh the benefits for me, then and now. But I do not believe that’s an objective conclusion for everyone. Each person has his own preferences unique to himself. It’s not for me to demand that anyone accept my opinion for myself as a substitute for his own opinion about his body. This involves the individual and his lack of need, and what those two details require for proxy consent.

Today, however, all is no longer equal, and the balance between the relative risks and benefits of male circumcision has clearly shifted in the other direction. That is, it has according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which just earlier this week put out its revised position statement on infant male circumcision. Here’s the money quote:

Systematic evaluation of English-language peer-reviewed literature from 1995 through 2010 indicates that preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure. Benefits include significant reductions in the risk of urinary tract infection in the first year of life and, subsequently, in the risk of heterosexual acquisition of HIV and the transmission of other sexually transmitted infections.

There is no way for these relative inputs to clearly demonstrate the universal conclusion endorsed by either. The AAP and Bering demand too much. And the money quote is not what Bering provides, but instead this quote from the technical report:

… Reasonable people may disagree, however, as to what is in the best interest of any individual patient or how the potential medical benefits and potential medical harms of circumcision should be weighed against each other.

As I wrote earlier, the highlighted statement is the ethical argument. It demonstrates the flaw in pretending that “preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks” is an objective conclusion, or that it justifies proxy consent for non-therapeutic male child circumcision. The AAP Task Force stating its evaluation based on its members’ subjective weighting does not change the ethical and rights violation. Individuals – males, only – should not be forced to live with a permanent, non-therapeutic alteration to their bodies based on their parents’ subjective preferences.

… The more vocal “intactivists,” who’ve long been protesting what they regard as an antiquated, cruel and unnecessary ritual act against little boys that is just as abhorrent as female clitoridectomy, have also responded bitterly to this newest AAP development, seeing fresh strands in an ongoing web of conspiracy between the major health organizations, third-party insurance companies implementing the policy views of these organizations, and greedy practitioners who mislead parents about the benefits of circumcision only to reap insurance payouts for “mutilating” children’s genitals.

Even though there are instances of conspiracy thinking, which are inexcusable, this is a straw man. I quoted the key sentence from the AAP’s policy statement above. There are valid issues involved that do not require conspiracy thinking to reject the AAP’s recommendation. Erecting straw men doesn’t negate those issues. For example, bodily harm, physical integrity, self-determination, and equal protection. Something more than weak caricatures of opposing positions would be useful. Engage in an Ideological Turing Test, at least. That would be respectable, unlike “just watch the reactions to this little essay of mine”.

What is vital to understand about the AAP’s recommendation is that the Academy is not discounting, in any way, the biological purpose or function of foreskin. …

I can’t find anything in either the policy statement or the technical report that discusses the biological purpose or function of the foreskin in a manner suggesting someone might want it. I also won’t ignore the implication throughout that parents should be allowed to discount the foreskin in any way they wish for their son(s). That implication is a critical part of the analysis, since that’s where the AAP and Jesse Bering believe this non-therapeutic, unethical decision may be made.

Within the two columns of one page where the Task Force discusses the foreskin, it pursues only the question of whether sensitivity and/or function are altered. That is different than stating advantages of having a foreskin. The abstract merely states: “Male circumcision does not appear to adversely affect penile sexual function/sensitivity or sexual satisfaction.” Within those two columns in the Sexual Function and Penile Sexual Sensitivity section on page 769, the technical report is a bit stronger :

The literature review does not support the belief that male circumcision adversely affects penile sexual function or sensitivity, or sexual satisfaction, regardless of how these factors are defined.

The problem is that the literature doesn’t seem to support the belief that male circumcision does not adversely affect penile sexual function or sensitivity, either. (Circumcision always alters the mechanics of the penis.) From the two “good quality randomized controlled trials that evaluated the effect of adult circumcision on sexual satisfaction and sensitivity in Uganda and Kenya” since 1995, the reports were compelling. Except for the caveats:

… [The Ugandan] study included no measures of time to ejaculation or sensory changes on the penis. In the Kenyan study (which had a nearly identical design and similar results), 64% of circumcised men reported much greater penile sensitivity postcircumcision.127 At the 2-year followup, 55% of circumcised men reported having an easier time reaching orgasm than they had precircumcision, although the findings did not reach statistical significance. The studies’ limitation is that the outcomes of interest were subjective, self-reported measures rather than objective measures.

It doesn’t bother me if a male is happy with being circumcised, even if his parents made his decision in childhood. That doesn’t change the ethical issue. I’m questioning the applicability of these studies on adults to newborns. Those limitations are critical. It’s also hardly compelling to imagine that individual preferences should be ignored in favor of population-based opinions. Within every finding in those two studies, there are males who do not conclude that circumcision is neutral or better for themselves.

From the Sexual Function section:

There is both good and fair evidence that sexual function is not adversely affected in circumcised men compared with uncircumcised men.131,134–136 …

Quoting the the study in footnote 136, “Sensation and sexual arousal in circumcised and uncircumcised men”:

It is possible that the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive due to the presence of additional sensory receptors on the prepuce and frenulum, but this cannot be compared with the absence of such structures in the circumcised penis.

Maybe that should’ve been included in the Sexual Satisfaction and Sensitivity section? To restate the obvious: the foreskin is removed during circumcision. Comparing that in circumcised men is impossible. Or, as the technical report states:

Limitations to consider with respect to this issue include the timing of IELT [intravaginal ejaculation latency time] studies after circumcision, because studies of sexual function at 12 weeks postcircumcision by using IELT measures may not accurately reflect sexual function at a later period. …

Studying whether or not adult circumcision adversely affects sexual sensitivity or function does not necessarily answer the same question for males circumcised as infants.

Back to Bering’s post:

… What the task force has implied, rather, is that whatever the advantages to being an intact male – such as increased sensitivity of the glans, protection, lubrication facilitating better heterosexual intercourse (in addition to the lubricating properties of shed skin cells and oils that accumulate under foreskins, an accentuated coronal ridge may also retract more vaginal fluids during copulative thrusting) – these advantages are overshadowed in importance by the prophylactic benefits of removing highly receptive HIV target cells that are found on the inner mucosal surface of the foreskin. …

Did the Task Force consider any of the advantages Bering listed? I didn’t see any of them stated in the policy statement. That suggests to me that the Task Force discounted the foreskin. They don’t appear to have considered the foreskin in any meaningful way. The recommendation that the benefits outweigh the risks is subjective and lacking in universal applicability. They proved no overshadowing.

To quote Task Force member Douglas Diekema, male circumcision “does have medical benefit. Not everyone would trade that foreskin for that medical benefit.” That seems obvious, especially since it’s implied in the ethical issues section of the technical report. That’s what makes it odd to see the nonsensical declaration in the abstract. And from Bering:

To circumcise, or not to circumcise? To me, at least, that’s no longer even a question. It remains as much a no-brainer as it was when I first wrote about this issue two years ago. If male circumcision reduces the probability of contracting the HIV virus even a fraction of a percent—let alone the estimated 60 percent reduction that scientists believe it does—…

From the technical report:

Mathematical modeling by the CDC shows that, taking an average efficacy of 60% from the African trials, and assuming the protective effect of circumcision applies only to heterosexually acquired HIV, there would be a 15.7% reduction in lifetime HIV risk for all males.

I’m aware of no studies showing a reduced risk from circumcision for anything other than female-to-male transmission through vaginal intercourse, so that assumption is perhaps reasonable. (The difference in context between the U.S. and the high epidemic in Africa may reduce the number further.) Thus, the 60 percent relative risk is not the correct number. The estimated 15.7% lifetime relative risk reduction becomes a fraction of a percent reduction in absolute risk of heterosexually acquired HIV in the United States.

… then why on earth wouldn’t you choose circumcision? …

Because the healthy child does not need and may not want to be circumcised? Because he still has to wear a condom? Because there are risks and costs from circumcision? Because not everyone would trade that foreskin for that medical benefit? Because all individual tastes and preferences are unique? That’s why on earth parents shouldn’t choose circumcision for their healthy sons.

In the context of the quote that opens this post:

… Have you ever seen a person slowly succumb to AIDS? The pain inherent therein is not even in the same galaxy of subjective experience as whatever minute qualia of pleasure may or may not be lost to such a “mutilation.” The sacrifice is no longer one made to a mythological deity, but to the child himself. HIV is not just an African problem, the logistics apply to any part of the world where the virus is found, …

Do we know the subjective experience difference is a minute qualia of pleasure? Does the child want that sacrifice made to him? He doesn’t need it and has ways to achieve the same benefit in greater measure.

… and circumcision protects against more than this one virus alone. If you want to invest in the probability that your son will grow up to become so unfailingly logical that lust will never, not even once, overcome his level-headedness, and that he will always have both a condom on hand and use it every single time that an opportunity to have intercourse with a potentially infected stranger arises, that’s your prerogative. You’ve probably not interacted with many actual human beings in your life, but, hey, it’s your kid.

I am so unfailingly logical that lust has never, not even once, overcome my level-headedness. I do not want or need that benefit in exchange for my foreskin, yet I no longer have my choice about my body. But, hey, I’m my parents’ kid. My foreskin belonged to them, so why I should I reject their decision about my body?

One can either listen to …, the overwrought intactivists attempting to intimidate new parents through strong rhetoric and graphic images of botched circumcisions, …

What does “Have you ever seen a person slowly succumb to AIDS?” qualify as, if not strong rhetoric?

What was once unquestionably “inhumane” and “unethical” has, oddly enough, made a complete about-face as a consequence of vitally important scientific data emerging over the brief span of two highly productive decades. Yet many parents continue to be emotionally sabotaged by the baby-harming language of intactivists and online blowhards, whose rhetoric primes them to either see these critical developments in conspiratorial terms or to indulge in amateurish debunking of complicated research.

Debunk? I’m not trying to do that. I accept the reality of every potential benefit, without relevant caveats. If nothing else, it’s because I don’t need them. It’s all in the truth that not everyone’s cost-benefit analysis will reach the same conclusion. Parents aren’t psychic for what their sons will want.

But I can read the policy statement abstract, the technical report, and its sources to understand where they don’t quite mesh. They don’t support the sweeping, conclusive statements the AAP makes that Bering endorses.

So here’s one of those rhetorical devices that intactivists should appreciate: Cut it out. For every amazing prepuce you save, you’re adding an element of risk and uncertainty for the person attached to it. Nobody can possibly know what viral foes a man will come up against in his life, and if one of them is HIV, your crusade, admirable though you feel it is, may be costing some other parent their child’s life.

Every circumcision adds an element of risk and uncertainty for the person attached to the foreskin. Nobody can possibly know what viral foes a man will come up against in his life, including his parents. If one of them is HIV, he should be wearing a condom. (And maybe consent to voluntary circumcision as an adult, if he’s inclined.) If he becomes infected, the responsibility rests with him, not me. Not that HIV is automatically fatal anymore. It’s also worth considering the possibility that other solutions may be discovered in the future, and maybe before a child born today becomes sexually active.

The framing of costing a parent their child’s life is bizarre, as if parents own their children. Permitting (and encouraging) non-therapeutic male child circumcision treats parents as the owners of their son’s prepuce, which is odd from a human rights perspective, but also from the reality that parents are legally prohibited from acting as if they own their daughter’s prepuce.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: Wesley J. Smith (Again)

Posted: October 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, Science | No Comments »

I expect garbage opinions on male circumcision. Too many people don’t think about it, letting the inertia of ignorance fill in the gaps in their knowledge as parents (and humans pondering anatomy). But I don’t expect such trash from a magazine like National Review that prides itself on being smart, honest, and principled. (More on that in a moment.) Here, Wesley J. Smith shows an embarrassing lack of curiosity and imagination. (Again, since Smith has shown he doesn’t understand the subject before.)

“Intactivists”–the nutty name anti-circumcision activists have given themselves–who aim to outlaw infant circumcision, claim that the procedure has no benefits and constitutes child abuse.

Baloney. There are at least mild health benefits for men, to the point that the American College of Pediatricians recommends that the choice of whether to circumcise be left to parental discretion.

He should talk to more people against non-therapeutic male child circumcision, since he doesn’t appear to have met those like me. The procedure has potential benefits. Removing a body part inherently means something that can happen to it can no longer happen. Phimosis, for example, is no longer possible. Or name any potential benefit, real or made up. It doesn’t matter. Smith cites a new rehashing of studies by Brian Morris¹ showing potential benefits to the health of female sexual partners. Fine. I’ll concede it, even though much of the context is often dropped. Male circumcision offers that benefit, whether it does or not.

Here’s the problem: so what? That something is possible does not prove it’s acceptable to do it. Acceptance of science (with disagreement on the veracity of claims) is compatible with rejecting the application of that science to the healthy, normal body of another human being without that person’s consent. Non-therapeutic male child circumcision does not meet the ethical threshold for proxy decision-making. It can be delayed until the male can consent, given that it’s non-therapeutic. There are less invasive prevention methods and treatments available for every potential issue non-therapeutic circumcision seeks to address. The child owns his body, including his foreskin. This is the same human right everyone has over their body and genitals.

That’s all before we even get to preference. What does the individual want for his body? All tastes and preferences are unique. The individual has to live with the decision. If left intact with his choice, he has to live with it for 18 years, at which time he can change it. Or not. If circumcised, he has to live with it for the rest of his life, including the decades he’ll spend as an independent adult. He can’t reject what didn’t need to be forced. The ethical difference in those two scenarios is stark.

Notice, too, that Smith can’t even cite the right organization, calling the American Academy of Pediatrics the American College of Pediatricians. The latter exists, but is not the source² of his link. If he can’t cite them correctly, what is the likelihood he read the AAP’s technical report that fails to support their position?.

Smith concludes:

The utter obsession some have about outlawing circumcision–whether undertaken for religious or health reasons–has always puzzled me.

But now we know that other than emotion and a bizarre belief expressed by some intactivists that sex isn’t as good for the circumcised, there appears no substantial reason to oppose the practice, much less outlaw it.

If he addressed his puzzlement with research rather than cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias, he might understand there’s more than BUT MUH BENEFITS. That Wesley J. Smith can’t think of a reason against non-therapeutic child circumcision is not proof there is no reason against it. The reasons are real and substantial.

For example, he would know the “belief” expressed that sex isn’t as good for circumcised men is an argument that sex isn’t the same, which is a fact, and that it likely isn’t as good, an educated guess based on data and anecdotal evidence. Removal of the foreskin means sex with a circumcised penis is sex without a foreskin. If you change form, you change function. The skin and nerves and functionality there at birth are no longer there. Again, that is a fact. Whether that’s good or not is a different matter. And again, all tastes and preferences are unique.

Anecdotal opinions are easy to find, but you have to be willing to search for and understand the implication of “…[n]ever felt I was too sensitive before circumcision but in retrospect I was.” Will every man think he was “too” sensitive? Does that suggest circumcision changes sex, at least?

Or do you need someone with a few more credentials, such as Dr. Laura Berman, who states “[r]emoving the foreskin also removes thousands of nerve openings that make sex more pleasurable.”

Or do you want a scientist and ethicist who studies circumcision, like Brian Earp, who reads studies rather than headlines to understand what research means. This includes when he read and analyzed³ a study by Jennifer Bossio, writing⁴, “you will be surprised to learn—I am quoting directly from the paper now—that ‘Tactile thresholds at the foreskin (intact men) were significantly lower (more sensitive) than all [other] genital testing sites’ including the sites in circumcised men (emphasis added).”

Or do you want another researcher who studies circumcision and sensitivity, like Dr. Kimberly Payne, who wrote in her study, “[i]t is possible that the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive due to the presence of additional sensory receptors on the prepuce and frenulum, but this cannot be compared with the absence of such structures in the circumcised penis.”

Yet, Brian Morris used Payne’s study, which he rated as the highest quality, in another rehash he used to conclude, “the highest-quality studies suggest that medical male circumcision has no adverse effect on sexual function, sensitivity, sexual sensation, or satisfaction.”

The people who seem to care the least about the details of circumcision generalize toward the view they already held going in. Morris is a propagandist, and presumably Smith relies on him because he wants to believe. He’s not unique in that approach, but it’s not something he should put on display as he did.

Which leads me back to National Review’s Credenda. Among their convictions:

A. It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. …

Non-therapeutic child genital cutting, including circumcision, violates the rights of the child, who is an individual and a citizen. Removing his foreskin deprives him of his property and liberty.

It is appropriate for the government to prohibit the non-therapeutic circumcision of male minors, as it already does for female minors. Whether or not that’s the fastest path to ending the cultural abomination is worth discussing. I think it isn’t, unfortunately. But it’s an appropriate legitimate action of government, since it would protect the rights of citizens, the substantial reason government exists. The government ignoring this diminishes freedom.

Whatever your opinion of National Review, Smith’s defense of circumcision should embarrass everyone at National Review.

¹ If you want to read the Morris study, follow the link to Smith’s post. If you want to know how to analyze one of the papers Morris cites in this new rehash, which is one of his previous rehashes of prior papers, read here and here. But notice the pattern of Morris rehashing papers over and over for the casual reader like Smith to think, “ahhh, a new study, and look at the volume of past studies showing the same thing!”. Stop being a dupe for his propaganda.

² The American College of Pediatricians has an official statement on Female Genital Mutilation. Its only reference to male circumcision is when it states:

The terminology itself has generated controversy. The World Health Organization emphasizes the fact that there are no medical benefits associated with even the least invasive procedure. Therefore, the WHO uses the term ‘mutilation’ to “establish a clear linguistic distinction from male circumcision, and emphasize(s) the gravity and harm of the act. Use of the word ‘mutilation’ reinforces the fact that the practice is a violation of girls’ and women’s rights, and thereby helps to promote national and international advocacy for its abandonment.“ (source)…

That linguistic distinction is propaganda, in the definitional, non-pejorative context, which the end of the quote acknowledges. There is harm in genital cutting, regardless of the victim. The practice is a violation of the victim’s rights, regardless of the specific genitals of the victim.

Yes, FGM is usually worse than male circumcision. Not always, and the law against FGM in the United States do not permit those harms equal to or less harmful than male circumcision. We treat the issue differently depending on who the victim is, which is logically and ethically flawed. The presence or absence of potential benefits is irrelevant to both. The absence of both need and consent is all that’s relevant.

³ Predictably, Brian Morris mischaracterized this finding in another of his rants.

Earp also clarifies with an analogy:

“Saying that removing the foreskin ‘doesn’t reduce penis sensitivity’ is a bit like saying that removing the pinky finger doesn’t reduce hand sensitivity. What you really mean is that removing the pinky finger (which is part of the hand) doesn’t reduce sensitivity in the remaining fingers — although, as we’ll see, it’s not even clear that this part of the analogy holds up in the actual study.”

Lazy thinking seems to be a prerequisite for those who advocate non-therapeutic male child circumcision.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: Dr. Laura Berman

Posted: October 1st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, FGM, Parenting | 1 Comment »

tl;dr version:

Dr. Berman writes:

… Thankfully, [male circumcision] is a choice that we do have here in America, unlike the millions of young girls across the globe who must endure genital mutilation with no option to decline.

Her analysis shifts depending on whether a male or female is cut without need or consent. Male circumcision is “a choice that we do have here in America”. “Thankfully”¹. Her male circumcision argument is about parents, without consideration for the child. She then compares the victims of FGM “who must endure genital mutilation with no option to decline.” When did I have the option to decline my mutilation? When did any boy circumcised without need have the option to decline? Her argument is sophistry. It’s garbage and shows why any defense of male circumcision as ethically different from female genital mutilation is mistaken. Dr. Berman should feel shame for even thinking that sentence.

**********

Dr. Laura Berman posted a question on Facebook, asking:

Men, how do you feel about your circumcision (if you were circumcised)? Do you wish you weren’t, or do you think your parents made the right choice? And women – do you have a preference when it comes to partners who are circumcised vs. uncircumcised?

The replies are roughly in line with what anyone should expect from a circumcision thread. In response to some comments asking her opinion, she followed with a blog post about it, “When You Miss Your Foreskin: The Real Deal on Male Circumcision”. Early on, she writes:

First, as a Jewish woman, I want to acknowledge that there is a cultural legacy behind circumcision which informs many people in my community and their decision to circumcise. While I appreciate and love my Jewish heritage, I realize this is not enough of a reason to perform surgery on an infant without medical cause.

That statement takes courage and is worth commending. Unfortunately, she does not let that inform enough of the rest of her post. She continues:

The pediatric community is still largely in favor of circumcision, as they say that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. What are these benefits?

She links the AAP’s 2012 statement there, which I’m omitting because you can get there here or here, instead. Apart from quoting the AAP’s flawed statement, quoting the AAP as “the pediatric community” is silly. The *American* pediatric community is still largely in favor of (non-therapeutic infant) circumcision. Most of the rest of the world is not in favor, for the reason Dr. Berman touches and then skips. There is not enough of a reason to perform surgery on an infant without medical cause. (There is no reason. There is no medical cause.) That’s the ethical principle applicable here, as in non-therapeutic genital surgeries on female minors. There’s no reason to exclude male circumcision from ethics.

After reviewing some potential benefits of circumcision, including the casual sexism of “for little boys who hate to bathe”, which should be rewritten as “for parents who abdicate their responsibilities”, Dr. Berman gets to some negatives. She writes:

Loss of nerve endings. Removing the foreskin also removes thousands of nerve openings that make sex more pleasurable.

It’s beyond comprehension how someone can write that fact and not end the post there with, “Yeah, this is wrong. We must stop immediately. And we should apologize for every non-therapeutic, non-consensual circumcision performed before now, because we were wrong to perform every one of them.” But she doesn’t, because of the usual consequentialism and moral relativism involved in this debate that predictably appears in her post. She continues:

… Along with physical pain, many men later report that they feel they feel violated as their circumcision was done without their consent.

Although I feel violated, that is a direct result of being violated. My non-therapeutic circumcision occurred without my consent. My circumcision violated me. I know why we avoid acknowledging this as a society, but it’s too blatant to be defensible.

Dr. Berman shifts to something worth repeating:

Last, before I end, I want to address the issue of consent around circumcision. One man on my Facebook post compared circumcision to rape, and while I appreciate his right to anger about his circumcision, we must be very, very careful when we use the word ‘rape’ to describe anything other than rape. Words matter. They are powerful. They shape our beliefs and they inform the way we live in this world. So when we use the word ‘rape’ to talk about a medical procedure performed in good faith, this does a grave injustice to rape victims who have been abused, traumatized, penetrated and dehumanized by a sexual predator(s).

I agree with this, and stand by what I’ve written on it.

However, what is consent, if not the ability to reject something you neither need nor want? It shouldn’t be discussed in the context of calling circumcision “rape”. We must discuss consent, though,
because it’s the crux of the violation. You don’t believe in consent if you believe consent in non-therapeutic genital cutting is sometimes relevant and sometimes not.

She moves on to the comparison of female genital mutilation/cutting and male circumcision. It’s flawed:

Nor do I think it is appropriate to take over a conversation about female genital mutilation by bringing up male circumcision in the Western World. There is a giant difference between FGM which occurs across the globe in places like Africa, Indonesia, and more. There are currently 200 million women living today in 30 countries who have been victimized by female genital mutilation in which these young girls near puberty are held down while some or all of their external genitalia are cut off with a sharp blade or piece of glass or similar cutting instrument.

It’s usually not appropriate to take over a conversation about FGM. The problem arises when the writer changes the analysis used for non-therapeutic female and male genital cutting, as most writers on the comparison do, and as Dr. Berman does here. Is it wrong to alter the healthy, normal genitals of a girl in a sterile operating theatre with appropriate pain management and the best parental intentions, the context assumed for male circumcision? It is still wrong in that context because it harms the girl without her consent. “One is almost always worse” is true and irrelevant to the principled analysis of non-therapeutic genital cutting without the recipient’s consent.

The usual caveats appear to continue the false distinction:

Unlike male circumcision, there are absolutely no benefits to FGM,…

If there were potential benefits to FGM, very few would change their opinion on FGM. Rightly so, because they would look at the costs – the guaranteed harm – and judge it unethical. There is no excuse for distinguishing this violation of males from this violation of females.

… and unlike circumcision, it is not performed to protect male sexual health …

Harming an individual to protect him from harm that can be prevented with lesser interventions is an absurd justification. He may not prefer this “protection” at the expense of his foreskin.

… but in order to erase female sexual pleasure and to lay ownership to a woman’s genitals. …

What did Dr. Berman ask? “And women – do you have a preference when it comes to partners who are circumcised vs. uncircumcised?” Why is that question relevant to the discussion? Dr. Berman doesn’t use the “women prefer” argument, but enough proponents use it to make the comparison. At best, we do not discourage “you prefer circumcision, so circumcise your son”. So, is the argument that it isn’t intended to lay ownership to a man’s genitals or that it doesn’t lay ownership? Even when the former is correct, it’s irrelevant because the latter is always incorrect in non-therapeutic child circumcision. “Son, you should prefer our preference(s), so we’ll make this choice that forces you to live with our preference(s) forever” is the antithesis of self-ownership.

When Dr. Berman later talks about whether “circumcision is the right choice for you and your family”, she implies that the penis belongs to the family rather than the boy. The best intentions don’t change the action. It is permanent control over part of the child’s sexuality.

After more awful facts of FGM, and embedding an Instagram post from WHO (correctly) declaring FGM a violation of human rights, Dr. Berman continues:

FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women. There are many who feel that male circumcision is a violation of the human rights of baby boys, and for these people, deciding to keep their baby intact is the correct choice. Thankfully, it is a choice that we do have here in America, unlike the millions of young girls across the globe who must endure genital mutilation with no option to decline.

Circumcision is a violation of the human rights of boys and men. This is true for the same reason non-therapeutic, non-consensual genital cutting violates the human rights of girls and women. There is neither need nor consent. Any cutting in that context violates the individual. Any analysis beyond that is sophistry for one’s preferences and biases.

Re-read the tl;dr above if it isn’t burned into your mind.

And then:

Why am I making this distinction between FGM and circumcision? Because, again, I think it does a disservice to woman who can feel no sexual pleasure, women who endure a lifetime of pain and loss, and young girls who are held down and tortured because their bodies are viewed as dirty and sinful to a medical practice which is performed safely, hygienically and with a baby’s health in mind.

Again, what is done to the genitals of girls and women is horrific, barbaric, and indefensible. Also again, this uses a different standard for assessing what is done to girls and what is done to boys. Would she approve of FGM if it is “performed safely, hygienically and with a baby’s health in mind”? Nope, and to reiterate, correctly. Consequentialism and moral relativism have no place in the analysis of genital cutting, including male circumcision. Genital cutting is wrong for boys for the same reasons it’s wrong for girls. (Especially when we consider “their bodies are viewed as dirty” in the context of “for little boys who hate to bathe” and “I chose to circumcise because I thought it was cleaner.”)

In summary, using the last link in the previous paragraph, Dr. Berman writes:

While nothing can ever undo that man’s circumcision,…

“While nothing can ever undo that man’s *non-therapeutic, non-consensual* circumcision… That’s the whole story. Stop ignoring it.

¹ I’m not thankful male circumcision is a choice “we” have in America, because “we” decided my penis without me.


√erifying what you want to believe

Posted: May 4th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Ethics, FCD, FGM, Media Marketing, Parenting | No Comments »

WZZM, the ABC affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has a “verify” article purporting to address the following:

The story of a female genital mutilation case in Detroit has prompted lots of questions from our viewers on what this procedure actually is and how it compares to circumcision in males. So, we set out to Verify this issue by reaching out to the experts.

WZZM “verifies” this in a surprising and predictable manner. There’s a video associated with the article. It’s what I will use as a summary for two reasons. I assume that’s what most people who arrive at the link will use. But I’ll focus on the video because it addresses what WZZM researched, not the comparison the article said they aimed to verify. (Most of the sections of the article are rote talking points. Also, I’m unconvinced the article had an editor for content because it did not have one for grammar.)

First, the on-air reporter, Val Lego, provides a summary of the two procedures.


(Larger size here)

This is the surprising part. It’s accurate. As those of us who recognize the valid comparison have said, both inflict permanent harm for non-therapeutic reasons and without consent. This is where the discussion should end. If this were investigating the correct question, the comparison as posited in the article, Ms. Lego would say, “As you can see, they are comparable. They are both a violation of the child.”

But this wasn’t investigating the correct question. Contrary to the accompanying article, WZZM sought to “verify” the difference between female genital mutilation and male circumcision. WZZM begged the question that they’re different. So, even with the ethical comparison established, the analysis works to provide the flawed, predictable psychological comfort for the viewer. Anyone with even a basic understanding of American culture can predict the outcome:


(Larger size here)

Here’s the completed list. It’s “√erified”. You got it right, didn’t you?


(Larger size here)

While accurate in the merely factual sense, none of it is relevant to the question of whether child genital cutting is acceptable. The comparison established before this list demands equal protection for everyone based in the ethical principle¹, whether female or male, adult or child. Everyone has the same human rights. There are no exceptions in the right to bodily integrity for “rooted in parents’ religion”, “potential health benefits”, or “only lifelong consequences we care about”. Religious rights belong to the individual, including the choice to reject genital cutting. The potential health benefits are of subjective value² because the child is healthy. Only he may decide if he values them more than his foreskin. And permanent removal of normal body parts is harm, always. That harm occurs in varying degrees, but harm is guaranteed with every cut.

Going back to the article, it ends with this:

Dr. Megan Stubbs, sex and relationship expert, says that there is a distinct intent to curb a woman’s sexual desire when she undergoes FGM/C – women and girls may face serious, lifelong medical and sexual dysfunction.

“Men who have been circumcised typically lead happy, health lives. Circumcised men still enjoy sex, with or without a foreskin,” Dr. Stubbs states.

Again, FGM is evil in all its forms. “May face” is true here because some less-common forms of FGM do not inflict serious, lifelong harm (or inflict harm similar to circumcision). Those forms are still illegal, as they should be. Good so far.

Dr. Stubbs then counters objective harm to a female victim with “still enjoy sex” for male circumcision. It’s a ubiquitous attempt at a distinguisher, the psychological comfort to parents of boys. But Dr. Stubbs changed the criterion, going from factual statements about FGM to a subjective statement about male genital cutting. Changing form (i.e. cutting away genital parts) changes function (e.g. loss of foreskin’s gliding mechanism). Whether that’s good or not depends on the individual recipient’s opinion. Outcomes vary for every individual. Preferences for or against those outcomes differ for every individual.

The issue is proxy consent for non-therapeutic genital cutting. The first picture above makes it clear how this should be answered. It is not a separate analysis for female versus male patients. (There is perhaps a separate analysis of punishment for what is inflicted on the victim.) Without need, inflicting permanent harm on an individual via proxy consent – with unknown severity and long-term consequences – is indefensible.

No individual’s experiences (or rights) are less valid than another’s because his or her outcome isn’t typical or as severe as another’s, or because his or her parents had the perceived right intention. “Still enjoy sex” is not a Get Out of Violating Human Rights Free card. Nothing in that video or article makes me think those who oppose FGM and defend circumcision would accept FGM if potential health benefits were discovered. (It wouldn’t be ethical to research the question on children, anyway.) That’s correct because FGM/C violates the girl’s body and rights. Thinking the items in the “√erified” column excuse or differentiate male circumcision in a meaningful manner is wrong and hypocritical.

¹ Non-therapeutic genital cutting without consent of the recipient is unethical.

² Science isn’t stagnant, either. It’s realistic to imagine a future with even better ways than our existing less-invasive-than-genital-cutting options to respond to the problems prophylactic male circumcision might address.


False Distinction, Not False Equivalency

Posted: April 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Ethics, FGM, Law, Logic, Science | 2 Comments »

Note: I’m not going to write about the charges directly here. Anything involving a cursory glance of my work here will let you know I understand, abhor, and reject FGM in every form. If guilty of the charges, the doctors should serve the maximum sentence allowed.

I noticed something both fascinating and infuriating in this USA Today version of the Detroit Free Press article on the arrest of three doctors in Michigan on charges of mutilating the genitals of female minors. Specifically, this section:

As some medical experts on the topic stated in a 2015 article by The Atlantic:

“Male circumcision does no harm. Female gender mutilation does. Male circumcision cuts the foreskin, FGM cuts the clitoris — the two things cut are not even remotely the same. For male circumcision to be equivalent to FGM, the entire tip of the male’s penis would need to be cut off … Constantly trying to claim they are equivalent practices when they are not takes away from the unique seriousness of female ‘circumcision/mutilation,’ as most cases are performed during a traumatic developmental period and remove most sexual sensation, which is not true with male circumcision.”

Two things immediately jumped out. Who are the medical experts? Where is the link to the Atlantic article? Seeing that this is the USA Today version, I investigated to determine if the link was dropped from the original Detroit Free Press version, which is here. Nope. The link isn’t there. And not only is the link not there, those two paragraphs were removed and replaced. (More on the latter in a moment.) So I checked the Wayback Machine to see if the USA Today version is different or out-of-date. Predictably, it’s out-of-date, because the first version was what USA Today still presents. My hunch was that the reporter, Tresa Baldas, (or an editor) made an inexcusable mistake, which was then erased (incompletely, because the internet is mostly forever). It’s the conclusion I draw, but I’m open to more facts.

I found the referenced Atlantic article, “How Similar Is FGM to Male Circumcision? Your Thoughts”. It contains Baldas’ paragraph from two excerpted, merged comments. The quoted “medical experts” are a commenter called Tyfereth and a commenter, Jim Eubanks, who is an MD candidate, according to his Facebook profile. Half-right, I guess, except the initial comment is the one drawing the alleged distinction. Tyfereth’s comment:

Male circumcision does no harm. FGM does. Male circumcision cuts the foreskin, FGM cuts the clitoris, the two things cut are not even remotely the same. For male circumcision to be equivalent to FGM, the entire tip of the males penis would need to be cut off. Now that would be a harm, but cutting off the foreskin isn’t harmful.

This is ridiculous logic. (It is also incomplete knowledge of the various types of FGM.) Cutting inflicts harm. This is indisputable, except for foolish attempts such as this. Declaring that cutting the body and removing a normal, healthy body part is somehow harmless, like touching a raindrop, should raise skepticism in every reporter (and editor). That it didn’t immediately demonstrates a problem Ms. Baldas (and/or her editor) should question in her continuing coverage. Instead, she quoted Tyfereth as a medical expert on nothing more than a lame “nuh-unh!”.

At least Mr. Eubanks appears to be closer to an expert. But he isn’t making the same argument, so he shouldn’t be lumped in with Tyfereth’s nonsense. In his complete comment, he’s a bit more nuanced.:

False equivalency. You can stand against both practices, but constantly trying to claim they are equivalent practices when they are not takes away from the unique seriousness of female “circumcision/mutulation” as most cases are performed during a traumatic developmental period and remove most sexual sensation, which is not true with male circumcision. We can oppose both but take them on their own terms please.

He’s still wrong, of course. There is no false equivalency in the principle. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. The right involved is a human right based in consent, not a female right based in degree of harm¹. The cutting done on an individual is a matter for penalty, not whether both violations or just those of females should be treated as crimes. The boy who is cut has as much right to his normal, healthy body² as the girl who is cut has to hers.

This is apparent with analysis of a more recent article Ms. Baldas wrote, “Report: Girl’s genital mutilation injury worse than doctor claims”.

A doctor’s findings, however, contradict that claim. A juvenile protection petition filed on behalf of the victims in Minnesota, along with federal court documents, cite scarring, a small tear, healing lacerations and what appears to be surgical removal of a portion of her genitalia.

I have or had all four of those injuries. I can’t state they are to the same degree, of course, so I’m not declaring that here. I’m stating the comparison is valid because non-therapeutic genital cutting without consent violates the individual. There is no false equivalency in stating that everyone has the same right to be free from unneeded, unwanted harm.

————-
Here are the paragraphs that replaced the reference to the medical experts in the Atlantic.

Medical associations also have cited health benefits to male circumcision, but have found no such benefits to female genital mutilation, which has been condemned by medical organizations worldwide.

For example, The American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have both found that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, though both groups say the final decision should be left to the parents as it may involve religious or cultural beliefs. The benefits cited by both groups include the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and a lower risk for urinary tract infections in infants.

Neither group, however, endorses female genital mutilation in any form and has cautioned physicians against practicing it. The same goes for the World Health Organization, which has condemned female genital mutilation, but has recognized health benefits to male circumcision, stating: “There is compelling evidence that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60%.”

First, the “FGM has no medical benefits” argument is a false distinction. It’s true, but irrelevant in the comparison. Most, if not all, opponents do not oppose FGM because it has no medical benefits. They oppose it because it violates the girl and inflicts harm on her. It’s a “spaghetti against the wall” argument. If researchers were to find (potential) benefits, the harm would still be real. Few opponents would change their mind. Rightly, of course, but it demonstrates the argument’s irrelevance.

Next, the American Academy of Pediatrics did not “find” that the health benefits outweigh the risks. They declared it to be true in the same way Michael Scott declared bankruptcy. The ethics section (Pg. 759) of its 2012 technical report states:

… Reasonable people may disagree, however, as to what is in the best interest of any individual patient or how the potential medical benefits and potential medical harms of circumcision should be weighed against each other.

This is obviously true. The value of a potential risk reduction at the expense of risk and an objective physical cost with the lost foreskin is a subjective conclusion based on the individual’s personal preferences. Yet the Abstract misrepresents what’s in the Technical Report when it declares, “preventive health benefits of elective circumcision of male newborns outweigh the risks of the procedure”. The AAP knows this is not a factual statement. Lazy, uncritical journalism perpetuates this subjective conclusion as fact.

Even the alleged bioethicist involved in the Task Force knows the truth, despite what he signed off on with the Abstract. Dr. Douglas Diekema said, “Not everyone would trade that foreskin for that medical benefit.” All individual tastes and preferences are unique. I think the potential benefits probably have merit. I don’t care. I don’t want them in exchange for my foreskin. I’d rather have my foreskin and a (tiny) higher absolute risk of a foreskin-related problem than my circumcision. This is true in spite of my parents preferring me circumcised. The proper analysis is cost-benefit, not risk-benefit. The risks are a relevant cost, but the loss of the foreskin is the primary cost of circumcision. For indefensible reasons, most – including the AAP and CDC – ignore it completely.

The reference to the CDC is curious for another reason. Its proposed guidelines have not proceeded beyond the flawed draft recommendations from 2014. Again, uncritical journalism is probably to blame. Most treated the draft as final, despite it clearly stating “draft” and open to review. I assume this happens due to laziness and confirmation bias. Insert your own theory why. It doesn’t matter. The result is misinformation spreads further.

With respect to FGM, the AAP briefly proposed a ritual nick as an alternative, which has implications for the “false equivalency”. But it is correct they don’t endorse it today. The WHO, however, is clueless and/or hypocritical. From its FGM factsheet, it states:

Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.

FGM has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways. It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls’ and women’s bodies. Generally speaking, risks increase with increasing severity of the procedure.

Everything there that isn’t the “spaghetti against the wall” argument (and “total removal” for the pedants, although it occurs) is true of male circumcision. WHO recognizes FGM as “a violation of the human rights of girls and women”. It is a violation of human rights, not female rights. Injury to the genitals without need or consent is the problem, not the form of the body part.

¹ Even though, yes, what is done to females is usually more harmful than what is done to males.

² This applies to intersex children, too. Obviously.


Flawed Circumcision Defense: Barbara Kay

Posted: October 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Control, Ethics, FCD, FGM, Hygiene, Logic, Media Marketing, Pain, Science | No Comments »

[10/19 Update: Edited for clarity and to reduce speculation since late night posting is imperfect and probably unwise.]

National Post columnist Barbara Kay used Brian Morris’ latest rehash on circumcision to repeat her ignorant thoughts on the subject. She begins by regurgitating claimed benefits, which can all be conceded here for the sake of time because they’re irrelevant to the only issue, ethics. Then:

… Dr. Morris and his American co-authors state, “We found that up to 65% of uncircumcised males might experience at least one of these [medical conditions] over their lifetime.” …

Until May 2015 Morris claimed the number as 33%. Since June 2015 he claims it’s 50% in a brochure on his website. And it’s apparently 65% in this new review. When will he settle on 100%? But more to the point, it’s obvious he likes whichever way he can claim this number because it’s flashy. “Ooooooh, 33/50/65 percent is high. Such danger!” But it’s a meaningless number in the context of non-therapeutic circumcision of boys. I assume Morris knows this. I assume Kay doesn’t, so a review of Morris’ history could help. Instead of those numbers, this is what is worth discussing here, from Morris:

Up to 10% of males reaching adulthood uncircumcised [sic] will later require circumcision for medical reasons.

Not only is the number only 10%, it’s only up to 10%. Medically necessary circumcision is rare, at any age. There is no ethical case for imposing the most radical solution without consent when at least 90% of males will never need it.

She continues:

… Their risk-benefit analysis of the procedure led them to conclude the benefits exceed the risks by about 100 to one. (In another study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Dr. Morris and colleagues found circumcision produced no adverse affect on sexual function or pleasure, a charge often leveled by anti-circumcision activist groups.)

Much like when Yair Rosenberg accepted Morris’ claim unexamined, Kay doesn’t appear to know the primary source.

But in a study Morris and Krieger rate as [highest quality], Payne et al [12], this:

… It is possible that the uncircumcised penis is more sensitive due to the presence of additional sensory receptors on the prepuce and frenulum, but this cannot be compared with the absence of such structures in the circumcised penis. …

Payne’s study published in 2007. In 2011 Kay wrote:

Set aside the rights-based rhetoric. It’s about sex: Circumcised men have greater pre-orgasmic endurance; non-circumcision permits more frequent ejaculations. …

So, circumcision either delays orgasm, assumed to be positive for all men, or has no effect on sexual pleasure. Like Morris, she appears to play “heads I win, tails you lose”.

Kay goes on to write:

… The AAP states: “The new findings show that infant circumcision should be regarded as equivalent to childhood vaccination and that as such it would be unethical not to routinely offer parents circumcision for their baby boy. Delay puts the child’s health at risk and will usually mean it will never happen.”

That quote is not from the AAP. It’s from Prof. Morris. He wrote it in a press release more than 18 months after the AAP published its revised position statement. Kay doesn’t bother to fact check the most basic statement. [ed. note: Kay asked the online editor to correct her error.] Nor does she pursue how Morris’ quote undermines their case for non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision since he acknowledges that circumcision is rarely necessary.

Thus, while it’s inexcusable, it’s hardly shocking when she continues:

The CPS could not condemn the practice on grounds of increased morbidity. After thousands of years of what is essentially a controlled study with virtually all Jewish men, with a large percentage of Muslim men on one side, and uncircumcised men on the other, it has been unequivocally concluded that circumcision presents no health risks; quite the contrary, as we shall see.

Even Morris doesn’t pretend that circumcision “presents no health risks”. He understates them, and ignores the guaranteed harm from the removal of the foreskin (and possibly frenulum) in 100% of circumcisions. But he’s not so biased that he’ll posit such an obvious untruth. Yet, there’s Kay’s indifference masquerading as hyperbole for all to see.

… Morris’s team estimates the combined frequency of adverse events at 0.4% overall, arguing that “the cumulative frequency of medical conditions attributable to [having an intact foreskin] was approximately 100-fold higher” than the cumulative risk of circumcision.

Even if we accept the numbers, he’s arguing frequency of medical conditions attributable to the foreskin, not the frequency of medically necessary circumcision. It’s fascinating, perhaps, but a transparent obfuscation. The anti-science charge is often leveled at activists here, but soap, water, antibiotics, steroids, condoms, and so on are also science. To start with the most extreme solution at the tiny prospect of a problem sometime in the future is ridiculous.

When she gets to the comparison of male and female genital cutting, she ignores the principle.

The single most irrational argument one often sees is the charge of moral equivalency between circumcision and female genital mutilation. FGM is a phenomenon that is, apart from both affecting the genitals, …

Apart from both affecting the genitals, indeed. Affecting the genitals of a healthy child who does not need or consent to the permanent alteration of said healthy genitals. Non-therapeutic genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical. The individual has inherent rights to bodily integrity and autonomy from birth. Non-therapeutic circumcision violates those rights.

… quite separate from circumcision. Unlike circumcision, which removes an unnecessary piece of skin, …

Unnecessary circumcision removes a piece of skin. It’s the same words, but made objective rather than subjective. It’s the fact-based opposite of “heads I win, tails you lose”.

… in no way prevents natural and satisfying sexual function, …

In addition to calling back to the Payne study and Kay’s earlier comments about delayed orgasm, circumcision removes the foreskin, a natural part of the body. That is “natural”. Its mechanism is gone, so circumcision certainly prevents that function. And “satisfying” is subjective. Would all men prefer delayed orgasm and the loss of the foreskin? (I don’t.)

… FGM is a misogynistic practice created as a means for men to control women, …

Circumcision controls men. Its imposition is another’s assessment that the male’s body should be the way someone else prefers. It is then made that way (hopefully, except when complications occur, including possible death). The male is never asked. He is to say “thank you”, praise the imposition, and impose it on his sons as soon as they’re born.

Kay’s argument rests on control as intent rather than action. I doubt she would accept that parents cutting their daughter’s genitals for the reasons we allow them to cut their son’s genitals. She assumes their intent is always evil, but is it the intent or the act that matters here? If she believes intent with FGC is only what she writes, as she appears to believe, she should read more¹ on the topic. And then extrapolate back to the disparity in the intent and the violence of male circumcision.

… meant to prevent sexual desire and gratification in women to ensure their fidelity, and which removes a portion of the genitals absolutely vital to gratification. It is the very epitome of patriarchy, whereas circumcision is a rite of passage conceived by males for other males, and for thousands of years rooted solely in spiritually contractual language and meaning. Women who have been subjected to FGM invariably come from countries in which extreme misogyny is the norm. Circumcision carries no moral or gender-injustice baggage of this kind whatsoever.

I agree that FGM is awful. But it’s silly to repeatedly claim a definitive knowledge that male circumcision does not remove of portion of the genitals absolutely vital to gratification. She ignorantly cites bad summaries of studies and only uses groups of males circumcised at birth or as young children as reference points for this opinion. She doesn’t appear interested in males as individuals with rights and preferences of their own for their foreskins. (“Conceived by males for other males”.) Preference for the foreskin or circumcision is an individual decision. What other males prefer is only valid for themselves.

She closes by misunderstanding the ethics involved one last time, in a disgusting manner:

Parents deserve to be informed of all the evidence, pro and con, when the issue of circumcision arises. It is not necessary for the CPS to actively recommend circumcision to keep to the path of ethics and professional responsibility, but given the accumulation of evidence demonstrating the positive effects of circumcision, it would be unethical of the CPS – or any pediatricians individually – not to present the science available, or worse, to recommend against the procedure.

She’s dancing close to the silly proposition that boys have a right to grow up circumcised. The only ethical position is absolute opposition to (and prohibition of) all non-therapeutic genital cutting without the patient’s consent. It’s the right she recognizes for females. Her source (inadvertently?) recognizes that circumcision is rarely needed ever and can be (but likely won’t be) chosen later. She cites evidence of males who are dissatisfied with circumcision and being circumcised. But she ignores these in favor of her own biases. Cognitive dissonance (and a non-sequitur) is the best she can offer. She is ignorant. She should aim to be less ignorant.

¹ Consider Fuambai Sia Aahmadu, and from 2008.


Joint Government Effort to Eradicate Consent

Posted: June 19th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: "Voluntary", Control, Ethics, HIV, Public Health | 2 Comments »

As always:

The Ministry Of Information and Communication Technology in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the centre for Disease Control in America are collaborating on a National Strategic framework known as the Voluntary Medical Male programme which is a joint government effort to eradicate the long struggle of HIV/AIDS infections.

HIV/AIDS has always been the countries top priority with the health ministry being pressured to reach their ambitious 2030 vision to bring HIV/AIDS infections to zero in the country.”The Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of health have had three randomised controlled trial runs of the voluntary medical male circumcision programme prior to it’s launch in 2009. With the success of the programme around 20,000 sexual active males have been circumcised to date thus raising 80% awareness to men to encourage more males in considering medical circumcision,”said programme specialist Mr Dan Rutz of CDC.

Somehow success is measure in “males circumcised” without giving any statistics on HIV rates¹. So it’s easy to predict what “encouraging more males to consider ‘medical’² circumcision” means:

“Medical male circumcision has been found to be cost effective, as well as all procedures are free at clinics it has been known that healthy employers increases work productivity within any work environment which leads to a steady healthy work environment that enables the economy to grow,” added Rutz.All males that have not been circumcised are encouraged to do so as procedures can be performed at all local regional clinics in the country as government want to achieve it’s target to circumcise 330,000 men between 15 to 49 years by the end of 2016.The Ministry would also like to implement a national policy programme known as an Early Infant Circumcision strategy in the near future that will enable newly born babies to be circumcised.

“Enable”. Newborn males won’t get to consider or volunteer. They will be considered and volunteered, their needs, preferences, and preventative options deemed irrelevant. They are only pieces by which public health officials measure their own professional success.

As always, when public health officials discuss voluntary or adult circumcision, they never mean voluntary or adult.

¹ A drop in HIV infections would be welcome. It cannot justify violating ethical obligations to protect the rights of non-consenting individuals.

² Circumcision in this context is medicalized, not medical. Merely performing non-therapeutic genital cutting in a sterile operating environment does not make it necessary. This is also not a defensible term to justify performing non-therapeutic genital cutting on a person who does not offer explicit consent.